Rules for Scottish printers, 1721

Broadside detail
Broadside with printers' rules
Full printers' rules image

There is only one known copy of a large broadside which laid down rules for Edinburgh printers in the early 18th century.

James Watson's 'Rules and directions to be observed in printing-houses' is dated 1721. It was probably hung up on the wall of the printing-house so that all the workers could see it.

The regulations were approved by six master printers in Edinburgh on 6 October 1721. The general rules include the prohibition of 'promiscuous drinking', which was to be punished by a fine. For 'stealing of books, paper, or materials', the penalty was dismissal. There are detailed rules for the compositors (the workers who arranged the metal type in the frames ready for printing) and the pressmen (who actually did the printing). It also lists fines for careless work or general untidiness.

James Watson

The type was composed by Samuel Forbes and printed by Walter Pearson and William Grant, apprentices to James Watson, one of the master printers who approved the text. Watson was one of the most important Scottish printers in the early 18th century, who did much to raise standards. Appropriately enough, this large broadside is a fine piece of printing, with red ink used to print the woodcuts and ornamental initial letter, and an attractive decorative border.

Unique copy

We got hold of a photograph in 1967 which proved that Watson's broadside still existed. The broadside had been hanging in a Nottinghamshire printing-house, and we were able to acquire it in 1987.

This is only one of thousands of broadsides in the National Library of Scotland's collections. You can see almost 1,800 of them online in our feature The Word on the Street.

Further reading
  • De la Caille, Jean. 'History of the art of printing'. Edinburgh: James Watson, 1713. (Shelfmark: H.32.e.42). James Watson commissioned the translation of La Caille's work from French to English and wrote an introduction. The book also includes specimens of Watson's own printing.
  • Evans, Wyn D. 'James Watson of Edinburgh: a bibliography of works from his press 1695-1722'. Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, vol. 2 (1982). (Shelfmark: SU.37(D.2.1 Eva)
  • Evans, Wyn D. 'James Watson of Edinburgh: Additions to the Bibliography', 'Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions', vol. 5 (1988), 41-48 (Shelfmark: NRR)
  • Watson, James. 'Rules and directions to be observed in printing-houses'.Greenock: Black Pennell Press, 1988. (Shelfmark: FB.s.424). This new edition, with an introduction by D Wyn Evans, was printed by Thomas Rae.


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